Demps Moves From Background to Forefront in New Orleans
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

July 29, 2010

Dell Demps knew he would receive considerable scrutiny in his new job as New Orleans Hornets general manager, but this was unlike anything hed ever experienced in basketball. On July 27 his first official day as GM Demps scanned a congested room inside the Emerils Delmonico restaurant. The 40-year-old was immediately taken aback by the numbers of reporters wielding TV cameras, carrying tape recorders or holding notebooks at an introductory press conference.

To be honest, the attention is a little different for me, the former University of the Pacific star guard told the New Orleans media, before grinning and joking about his low-profile college career. I never really had this many people wanting to talk to me after Pacific played against San Jose State. We didnt have this type of press.

As he describes it, until recently Demps had spent virtually his entire basketball career in behind-the-scenes roles. After parts of three seasons in the NBA with three different teams from 1993-97, he finished the playing portion of his hoops career overseas in the late 1990s. Over the past decade, the native of Long Beach, Calif., has worked in the D-League and in front-office roles for the San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks.

I went to a small school, Demps explained. Ive pretty much been in the background the whole time. I was never a person who was highly recruited. I had to work my way for everything, and thats how I have to continue now.

A triple threat
Although Demps may not be an instantly recognizable name to casual followers of the NBA, his potential as an executive in the league generated significant buzz this summer, resulting in him being simultaneously pursued by New Orleans and Phoenix in July. Demps ultimately decided to accept the Hornets offer to take over as the seventh general manager in franchise history.

New Orleans team president Hugh Weber explained that Demps background of filling various roles has provided him with an impressive array of experience, making Demps the perfect candidate. As a former NBA player, Demps shares a similar background to many ex-pros in GM roles such as Bostons Danny Ainge and Detroits Joe Dumars. As a five-year member of the Spurs organization, Demps became well-versed in some of the cutting-edge statistical analysis that is become increasingly prominent in the NBA. Up-and-coming GMs such as Houstons Daryl Morey and Oklahoma Citys Sam Presti like Demps, a former Spurs employee are examples of executives with expertise in this department. Demps is also is a bit of a rarity among GMs in that he has a masters degree in business administration, which he earned at Pacific after his playing days.

Teams right now are taking three different strategies to fill the general manager role, Weber explained. Some teams are looking at a traditional basketball person, someone who understands the ins and outs of chemistry (and aspects of a team). Thats the traditional role.

Were (also) seeing teams now go more down the avenue of someone who is a principal negotiator former agents and attorneys. (Thirdly), now were seeing GMs who are versed in analytics, numbers and data.

What made Dell the most unique candidate was his broad and diverse experience at all three of these avenues. Dell played not only domestically, but also abroad, so he understands the business side of this and how all of the analytics work. Hes incredibly sharp and incredibly gifted. He was a three-for-one (hire) for us. His experience that hes bringing to this organization made him the perfect candidate.

To-do list
Asked by reporters on his first day to list what his short-term objectives will be with the Hornets, Demps said he cant pick just one item. Its more like a 1A, 1B and 1C kind of thing, he said of what he wishes to accomplish in the coming weeks.

The Hornets immediately have begun implementing changes to their basketball operations department, with Demps vowing to make international scouting a greater priority. New Orleans is one of a handful of teams that has not tangibly benefited from an influx of international talent to NBA rosters over the past two decades. The Hornets have never used a first-round pick on an international player, only expending one draft choice (Marcus Vinicius in 2006) on a foreign prospect out of 39 selections in franchise history.

The game has become global, Demps said of the teams aim to focus on international players. Were going to be everywhere and increase our basketball knowledge in all aspects.

From an even shorter-term standpoint, Demps acknowledges that exploring the NBA trade market is the most realistic way for the Hornets to improve their roster quickly. He points out, however, that he sees several attractive aspects already in place. Injuries often left the Hornets shorthanded in 2009-10, factoring greatly in a 37-win season, after they had earned back-to-back playoff berths and a Southwest Division title in 2007-08.

The roster is not bad right now, Demps said. I want to make sure I start there. Im excited about the players we have on the roster. But for every team, if theres an opportunity to improve your roster, you do it. There are a number of free agents still available, but (trades) would probably be the most obvious way (to improve).

Im excited. (Becoming a GM) is something Ive been waiting for and something I want to be a part of. We want to build a team that the city can be proud of.

Reunited Spurs
Demps and first-year Hornets head coach Monty Williams were sparingly-used members of the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, a 59-23 squad that captured the Midwest Division title. That club, which was headlined by Hall of Fame center David Robinson, has perhaps become most notable for this difficult-to-believe fact: five players are now NBA head coaches or general managers. Demps and Williams teammates that year included contemporary head coaches Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics), Vinny Del Negro (Los Angeles Clippers) and Avery Johnson (New Jersey Nets). In addition, fellow 95-96 Spurs player Chuck Person is an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, while Charles Smith is the executive director of the organization for retired NBA players.

You just never know where youre going to end up, Williams said. Life has a funny way of bringing you full circle. Dell and I played together in the 1990s. I dont think we ever thought wed end up being the head coach and GM of an NBA team. Its weird that it worked out that way.

Demps and Williams acknowledge that they will use many of the experiences they learned under Gregg Popovich during their debuts as NBA general manager and head coach, respectively. Several former executives and coaches with San Antonio backgrounds have flourished in other locations, such as Presti in Oklahoma City, Danny Ferry, Mike Brown and Steve Kerr.

Every situation is different, Demps said. But there are some fundamental differences that I truly believe in, and I will keep those. The goal is to put the best possible product on the court.

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